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Over the past 50 years and under the dynamic leadership of celebrated visionaries within the field, the Museum’s programming ambitions have far surpassed its humble roots. From its beginning in a rented loft on Fifth Avenue to its 1982 move to a renovated office building, the Museum took the art world by storm producing landmark exhibitions, presenting forward-thinking public programs, bringing art and artists to local schools, and acquiring significant works for its world-renowned permanent collection.
Today, we are poised to consider how an even bolder approach to reimagining our facility could further enable us to remain at the forefront of innovation in the way museums present, support and engage visitors with art and artists of African descent. At the same time, the building project provides renewed urgency and opportunity for rethinking the way we consider our neighborhood, audience and mission. It offers new questions and new opportunities: Can we continue the work of the Studio Museum without occupying a single, physical structure? Will delivering the mission and work of the Museum directly to the Harlem community encourage increased local engagement once we reopen? Can a hiatus from institutionalized space empower us to re-imagine the types of activity that come to define that space? How can we strengthen cultural partnerships to acknowledge existing and articulate new, shared goals and strengths?
On the occasion of our fiftieth anniversary, the Museum seized this opportunity to bring our mission and programs directly to the Harlem community, strengthening the relationships that will be the foundation of the next fifty years. inHarlem will lay the groundwork for the values that will inform the brick-and-mortar ambitions of the new Studio Museum. inHarlem encompasses a broad slate of initiatives, strategies and activities, built upon the foundation of the following three overlapping and intersecting pillars: artist’s projects, the permanent collection, and collaboration.
inHarlem will continue and build upon the Museum’s existing collaborations on artist projects and public programs with our Harlem neighbors, as well as our peer institutions throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Our hope is to reconsider the Museum’s signature programs in new venues, adding depth and perspective to these important conversations. Simultaneously, we will combine our expertise with that of our colleagues to pioneer new models of strategic partnership and broaden the scope of influence of our community engagement activity. Furthermore, collaborations during inHarlem well help us to better identify and access new audiences. A large part of what we do and will continue to do during inHarlem will focus on artists’ projects and celebrating the Museum’s strong institutional history as a site for the dynamic exchange of ideas about art and society. We will work with artists and community partners to continue to embolden Harlem as a vibrant place for artists to exhibit, create and explore. These site-specific artists’ projects will range in duration and scope and mine the opportunities and responsibilities of operating as a museum without walls. Over the last four decades, our collection has grown through the generosity of artists, collectors and museum patrons. inHarlem will bring this extensive collection to schools, into the community, and online, and we will use the collection to bring attention to and activate public art in the neighborhood.
As we move forward with a physical reimagining of our museum, it is just as important to re-imagine our work and its place in communities near and far. inHarlem will be a laboratory for testing new ideas. It will be a risk, an adventure and a bold proclamation of the Studio Museum’s future. Being temporarily unmoored from a physical facility will offer exceptional freedom to generate new models of collaboration that will become integral to forging a responsive and accessible museum of the future. In addition to exploring new ways of supporting the Museum’s existing audience, the expanded reach of our inHarlem program will encourage the development of entirely new audiences and demographics, enabling us to identify the needs of those who see the Museum as a vital resource, and meet those needs where they are.